Wikipedia:IRC/Personal views regarding IRC

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Purpose of this page[edit]

This page serves to document the views of current Arbitration Committee members (as of January 2007), who wish to make a statement pertaining to the matter of IRC, with particular regard to the matter of the existence of, management of, and behavior on the Freenode #wikipedia-en-admins channel. The committee as a whole has declined to hear a case regarding this matter, in large part due to concerns that the matter is outside the proper scope of the committee. However, some members of the committee wish to make their views clear, both to provide transparency and to give guidance to the community on other possible ways forward.

All are encouraged to respond on the discussion page.

Statement by Fred Bauder[edit]

All high traffic IRC channels are troublesome to me, as, if I am on-line, I am usually trying to concentrate on something, and the constant chatter of a channel like #wikipedia-en-admin cannot be attended to. When I did monitor the channel I found some rather nasty stuff. A venue frequented by administrators ought not be used to diss the problem user of the day. I relate to administrators having somewhere they can let their hair down and talk candidly, but it can go too far. In cases where it does, the rest of the community is not obliged to ignore it. However, I think the channel provides a useful function and with the improvements recently made, including promotion of channel operators to monitor it and warnings to those who frequent the channel there has been considerable improvement. Therefore it should remain open. I have no interest in going back and smiting past wrongdoers.

As to the Arbitration Committee's power: except in extraordinary circumstances our cases should be limited to disputes between users over behavior. The community needs to explore alternatives for both routine behavior problems and the making of policy. Fred Bauder 18:12, 29 January 2007 (UTC)

Statement by UninvitedCompany[edit]

Many seasoned Wikipedians, my friends among them, will find this statement hard to read. I apologize for that, and if it would provide any solace, I would share the observation that it has also been hard to write. I am saddened by many of the things that I have to say. I firmly believe, however, that the issues raised here cannot be wished away, and are therefore better aired in an organized form so that the necessary conclusions may be drawn.

I have already shared the essence of the content here with the Arbitration Committee mailing list. It has not, by and large, been well received. Accordingly, this is not an official statement from the Committee, and I do not purport to represent anyone's views other than my own.

Background[edit]

Regarding the immediate source of disagreement[edit]

The impetus for this matter has been the logs of the #wikipedia-en-admins IRC channel which have been circulating via email and have appeared in several public posts. These logs have been corroborated with logs for the corresponding time period obtained by the Committee from other reliable sources. Most of the logs have been circulating publicly in redacted form, with side conversations removed, and showing only a relatively short period of conversation. The Committee has reviewed these in the broader context of the complete and unredacted logs, and the publicly posted logs that I am aware of have been selected and redacted in a responsible way that preserves the relevant context. In short, after investigation, there is no credible evidence that any of the logs were forged or quoted in a misleading way.

The contents of these logs have been disturbing. I will refrain from quoting them directly, but in short, they reveal:

  • Jdforrester making an implicit personal attack upon any administrators who are friends of Giano. He goes on to gloat that since he is in control of IRC and has utilized his influence to cause the Arbitration Committee to rule that IRC is outside its jurisdiction, he may make such attacks with impunity
  • Tony Sidaway engaging in personal attacks
  • Kelly Martin engaging in personal attacks

Some Wikipedians have questioned the propriety of individuals who are not administrators of the English Wikipedia (ENWP) participating in the channel, noting especially that Tony Sidaway and Kelly Martin both resigned their adminship at ENWP but not only have access to #wikipedia-en-admins, but are channel operators (chanops) there. The channel name (#wikipedia-en-admins) would seem to imply that access is available only to ENWP administrators. Past and ongoing practice, however, has been that trusted non-administrators have been given access at the discretion of the chanops. Since the matter was raised, the brief channel description at WP:IRC has been updated in an effort to reflect this [1].

Present IRC organization[edit]

All Wikipedia-related IRC channels are served by freenode.org, a shared server operated by the Peer-Directed Projects Center, a nonprofit corporation unrelated to the Wikimedia Foundation. There have been Wikipedia-related IRC channels present at Freenode since 2002, prior to the formation of the Wikimedia Foundation. Freenode previously recognized Jdforrester as a group contact and gave him elevated chanop status for all #wikipedia-related channels. Jdforrester remains the highest-level chanop for #wikipedia-en-admins (and many other #wikipedia and WMF-related channels) by default even though he is no longer a group contact.

Freenode at present does not recognize a group contact for Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation has taken the position that it is not responsible for Wikipedia (the community) and hence does not wish to be the sponsoring organization for such a relationship. While there is the possibility that Wikipedia (the community) could forge such a relationship itself, no steps toward this have been taken ("If it's run by a larger core group or by voting across the project, the voting group should make a collective decision to register and should appoint one of their number as approving contact." Freenode page). Within the open-source community, there are many groups that conduct their work using servers and other sponsorship from a foundation or commercial concern, while maintaining independent community control of their IRC channels, so such a relationship would not be without precedent.

The prohibition on logging of #wikipedia-related channels is a matter of tradition within each channel, and is not a Freenode requirement. The Freenode web site states: "If you're publishing logs on an ongoing basis, your channel topic should reflect that fact" [2].

Response to date[edit]

In addition to the public discussion on AN/I and on RFAR and its talk page, this matter has been discussed at great length within the Arbitration Committee. No consensus has emerged from these discussions. I will refrain from attempting to characterize the views of others, and instead encourage the community to ask questions of any Committee members whose views they wish to hear.

Public response has included a post by Fred Bauder to WP:AN: "Numerous incidents involving gross incivility on the IRC channel have been brought to the Arbitration Committee's attention. We consider such behavior absolutely unacceptable; to ensure that it does not continue, we have worked with the leadership of the IRC channels to appoint additional channel ops, with a specific mandate to keep Wikimedia IRC channels polite and courteous. Behavior on the IRC channel may be taken into consideration with respect to arbitration cases if it results in disruption on Wikipedia."

There has also been some self-policing by #wikipedia-en-admins participants and chanops, and some IRC users (including me) have been granted chanop status in fulfillment of Fred's directive.

I believe that this response falls short of the mark. This has led to dissatisfaction among many Wikipedians, and a pattern of ongoing discussion and criticism. The balance of my statement is an attempt to address this.

Principles[edit]

Behavior expectations apply anywhere the community gathers[edit]

The distinction between the Wikipedia community and the Wikipedia web site is an important one. The Wikipedia community is made up of all contributors – pseudonymous, named or anonymous; administrator or regular user. Wikipedia (the web site) is the means by which Wikipedia (the community) writes Wikipedia (the encyclopedia). All of these are separate from the Wikimedia Foundation, the legal entity which gathers donations and utilizes them to further the goals of various open-content projects, of which Wikipedia is one among many.

While this is far from a settled matter, it is my view that our behavior standards can and should apply to members of the community regardless of whether they are communicating via Wikipedia (the web site) or some other means. They apply any time we speak in public and identify ourselves as Wikipedians. They apply to all of our dealings with each other where Wikipedia is part of the subject matter.

These standards apply more broadly to trusted members of the community, such as administrators, and they apply especially broadly to those in uniquely elevated positions of trust and responsibility, such as members of the Arbitration Committee. Individuals in positions of authority within the Wikipedia community should strive to apply the principle of constant respect, realizing that the presence of a power disparity makes it unfair for them to respond in kind to personal attacks.

Authority of the Arbitration Committee[edit]

The Arbitration Committee was created by Jimbo Wales with the advice, cooperation, and consent of the Wikipedia community at the time of its creation. As Jimbo’s role and the Committee itself have evolved, it has become clear that the Arbitration Committee is at this point responsible to the Wikipedia Community, in part through the election procedure used to select members, and also through the procedures and limitations set forth at Wikipedia:Arbitration Policy, and to a lesser extent, tradition and precedent. The Committee, since its inception, has interpreted its role narrowly, generally choosing not to hear content-related disputes or those involving behavior that did not take place at Wikipedia (the web site).

In a very real sense, the Committee depends upon the community for its authority, since remedies it issues are not enforced by the Committee itself but rather by the community as a whole. The Committee has no legal authority over Wikipedia (the web site), and has no special enforcement-related technical authority on Wikipedia (the web site). As such, the Committee would not require any technical or legal authority for other means of communications over which the community might grant it jurisdiction.

There is no consensus on the limits of the Committee’s authority. This is a question separate from the limits on applicability of policy, since even if Wikiquette were determined to apply to places away from Wikipedia (the web site), it would still be possible for the Committee’s authority to be constrained to the web site alone.

It is my view that the Committee should look to the community for guidance on the limits of its authority.

Freedom to communicate[edit]

Communication among members is vital to Wikipedia (the community). All Wikipedians are free to communicate amongst themselves using any means they wish. While some Wikipedians have expressed frustration at the use of communications means that are available only to a limited set of community members (especially face-to-face meetings), the community has concluded that the benefits of permitting such communications means far outweigh any drawbacks.

In like fashion, Wikipedians are welcome to communicate amongst themselves one-to-one or in small groups that make up a subset of the community.

This freedom is tempered by the expectation that such subgroups may not make decisions binding on the rest of the community alone. In particular, it is not our policy to reference an off-Wikipedia (the web site) conversation as the sole rationale for enacting a decision.

Relationship of this matter to the matter of Giano et al[edit]

Difficulties and disagreement regarding the relationship between IRC and Wikipedia (the web site) have been ongoing and are not limited to the #wikipedia-en-admins channel. However, the recent problems were first aired in a disagreement that culminated in the Giano arbitration case. While Giano and Giano's colleagues were indeed the target of personal attacks in the #wikipedia-en-admins channel, I believe that the IRC-related problems I address here are fundamentally separate from the involved matter of Giano's relationship to the project. That said, I believe that the successful resolution of many of the core issues I address here may set the stage for a better resolution of secondary matters such as the matter involving Giano.

In particular, I would like to note that my statement here should not be construed to be either an endorsement or condemnation of Giano's activities at Wikipedia.

Findings of fact[edit]

Utility of #wikipedia-en-admins[edit]

The #wikipedia-en-admins was created primarily as a working tool, and there have been ongoing attempts to limit social use and general discussion. These attempts have largely been unsuccessful, and the channel has become more discussion-oriented and social over time as administrators have left the #wikipedia channel due to the near-total absence of Wikipedia-related discussion there. Nonetheless, the channel remains effective as a working tool for contacting other administrators for assistance. Topics include such matters as serious pattern vandalism, organized attempts by outside groups to intimidate Wikipedians, WP:LIVING violations, and press coverage of Wikipedia. It was matters such as these that served as the initial justification for the creation of a private, unlogged channel, and this need is legitimate and ongoing.

It must be borne in mind that the personal attacks and other misuse of the channel, troubling though they are, should be weighed against the overwhelmingly more common neutral or positive use of the channel when the future of the channel itself is discussed.

Behavior of participants and chanops at #wikipedia-en-admins[edit]

IRC, as a medium of communication, predates Wikipedia and indeed Wikis in general. Not surprisingly, IRC has its own social conventions and mores, and these have influenced behavior on #wikipedia-en-admins as well as other Wikipedia-releated channels. Much of the IRC culture stems from the immediacy of communication and the lack of any readily visible logs. The public logging prohibition on Wikipedia-related channels is also common on IRC channels unrelated to our project, and indeed extends to those channels hosted on servers other than the Freenode cluster. It is my view that the culture on our channels has become toxic and must change to serve the needs of Wikipedia (the community), in these particular areas:

  • Gratuitous use of profanity
  • Personal attacks on and value judgments regarding people who are not present
  • Frequent expressions of disdain for the faith and values of others

Such behavior is not tolerated at Wikipedia (the web site), and Wikipedia (the community) has no reason to tolerate it on the community's IRC channels. While some change has taken place over the last four weeks, I do not believe that the problem is solved.

The privacy of the channel and the proscription on publication of logs have been abused. The purpose of the channel's privacy is to allow open discussion of internal matters to occur, as noted in the section above. The use of #wikipedia-en-admins as a sort of private club for the uninhibited discharge of personal attacks, colorful language, metaphors, and hatred is a misappropriation of power and trust and is to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

I see it as the role of IRC chanops to lead by example and through persuasion to create a constructive, respectful environment on the channel. Freenode has an excellent page on this, emphasizing that is not necessary to be a chanop to contribute to such an environment. I am dismayed that the #wikipedia-en-admins chanops have failed to create such an environment, and as noted in the background section, have engaged in inappropriate behavior themselves.

No clear dispute resolution path for IRC[edit]

A major catalyst of this dispute is the fact that there is no clear dispute resolution path for #wikipedia-en-admins or other Wikipedia-related IRC channels. As noted above, Jdforrester is presently the highest-level chanop. He has stated that he considers himself the final authority on matters related to the #wikipedia- IRC channels, and has stated that he does not answer either to the Arbitration Committee or Wikipedia (the community) in this regard, instead serving what he sees as a separate community made up of participants in the #wikipedia- channels.

As such, the dispute resolution path for IRC-related matters, at present, begins and ends with Jdforrester. This fact is not documented at present at WP:IRC, or (as far as I know) on any related pages.

An effective appeal to community in IRC related matters is complicated by the #wikipedia-en-admin channel's proscription on publishing logs. Individuals who feel aggrieved by statements made in IRC face a dilemma: if they post logs, they violate channel norms, and if they do not post logs, there is no evidence to support their claims. Ironically, channel standards appear to be enforced on Wikipedia (the web site), in that any log postings are rapidly reverted, while channel participants claim that Wikipedia (the community) standards do not apply to the channel.

Conclusions[edit]

Bridges between Wiki and IRC[edit]

First, I recommend that all Wikipedians, IRC users or otherwise alike, seek to build bridges between the IRC subculture and the Wiki. An effort to document more thoroughly the channels, their leadership, and the behavioral expectations on Wikipedia (the web site) would be a good place to start. Those Wikipedians who have thus far avoided IRC would do well to visit the channels occasionally.

Policy recommendations to the community[edit]

I offer these suggestions to the community for policy changes. I suggest that, after details are worked out during a suitable period of discussion, the community adopt these policy items:

  1. A statement that Wikipedia's behavioral standards apply anywhere Wikipedians gather.
  2. For the avoidance of doubt, a clear statement of the community's wishes regarding the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Committee, particularly with regard to off-Wiki behavior that affects the community.

Changes to IRC decisionmaking structure[edit]

Given the importance of IRC channels to the project, and the clear need for more community control over the channels, I recommend that the community start a dialog with Freenode to see what must be done to elect a group contact. I believe that it is important that the group contact be elected on Wikipedia (the web site), to make sure that they represent Wikipedia (the community), rather than the IRC subculture within it. Now that the channels have grown in size and prominence, a more sophisticated decision-making structure than the one presently in place might be called for.

In light of the fact that Tony Sidaway and Kelly Martin have both resigned their adminship at ENWP while the community was raising questions about their adherence to Wikiquette, and given the fact that there is evidence that they are continuing this pattern of participation in #wikipedia-en-admins, I believe that it is inappropriate for them to continue as chanops of that channel. Accordingly, I recommend that their chanop status be removed. As noted above, chanops should be expected to lead by example, making the frequently offered argument that these individuals have not abused chanop-specific tools a specious one.

Closing words[edit]

Respectfully submitted,

The Uninvited Co., Inc. 22:26, 30 January 2007 (UTC)

Statement by Paul August[edit]

(Full statement forthcoming)

For now, let me say that I substantially support and endorse the statement by UninvitedCompany above. Paul August 23:17, 30 January 2007 (UTC)

Statement by Kirill Lokshin[edit]

I am largely in agreement with UninvitedCompany's statement; to avoid repeating much of what he has said, I'll focus on what I consider to be a few key points.

On personal attacks[edit]

First, we must consider the nature of personal attacks. The traditional division of attacks into on-Wikipedia and off-Wikipedia ones is rather deceptive. Our prohibition of personal attacks and our insistence on civility are not based on considerations that apply purely to their appearance on the site itself; the database will not break because there are too many insults on our pages. Rather, the underlying consideration is that a collaborative project, such as Wikipedia, necessarily requires a collegial atmosphere to function effectively.

The notion that off-Wikipedia attacks are somehow a different animal is therefore flawed. If one attacks a fellow editor, it matters not one bit whether that attack happens to be delivered via talk-page message, email, forum posting, or full-page ad in the New York Times; the important thing is that it is delivered, and that the result is a decreased ability to collaborate on the encyclopedia-writing process. Incivility that happens to take place on IRC is no less destructive of the project's collegial atmosphere than identical incivility on the pages of the project itself, and should be regarded in the same negative light.

On decorum[edit]

It is vitally important that all members of the community who occupy positions that might be regarded as having some authority—including admins, Arbitrators, and others—comport themselves with a certain level of decorum. Beyond, even, the issue of respect mentioned by UninvitedCompany, ill-considered actions by Wikipedians in highly visible positions have the potential to bring their fellows and the project as a whole into disrepute.

On the Committee's authority[edit]

The Committee's authority over the IRC channels—or lack thereof—is obviously not a universally agreed-upon issue at this point. The matter thus devolves to the Wikipedia community at large; it is up to the community to determine whether it wishes for ArbCom to act on such questions, and to produce an unambiguous and explicit consensus as to the extent of the Committee's purview in this regard. There will not, I think, be any real capability for unilateral decision-making on our part here.

Kirill Lokshin 00:00, 31 January 2007 (UTC)